When you have to micromanage your plot

YOU CAN’T PLAN EVERYTHING AHEAD OF TIME

And the farther you are from the beginning and the end (if you’re an extreme plotter as I am), the more likely you are to get to a point where a scene just isn’t obvious.

You know what the chain of scenes has to accomplish (connecting beginning to end efficiently and while keeping the reader entertained), but the specifics of some of the scenes just don’t set off the process which ends in writing the scene as if it had always been there.

I wasn’t surprised to find out it happened on this timeline

On the story that is not primary right now, the character timeline that is keeping one of the three characters off on her own while the other two are doing a very personal interaction necessary to the story, together.

So I know exactly when this character is rejoining the primary thread, and what is going to happen from that point on, but the notes I took on what she does meanwhile, in scenes that have to make her emergence exactly right when it happens, were placeholders, and they don’t satisfy, precisely because they are placeholders.

You can’t let the reader completely lose sight of a character

Not for chapter after chapter. Because in real life, a character is always the main character on her storyline.

It is possible that the time spent alone on her story is not all that interesting to the reader.

In GWTW, many long pages go by when we don’t hear what Frank Kennedy is doing – because Scarlett doesn’t care yet. Then, when her story demands another husband, and she decides she deserves what he has, and her sister would just waste it, she grabs him, and he has a presence in the main story until she manages to get him killed.

That’s one way to do it.

It’s better if that character is doing something

Something that needs reporting back to the reader, and something that will cause major problems if not resolved by the right time in the right way.

Something that really worries the reader.

Something that heads off in a direction far away from what the reader wanted the character to be doing, and that gets worse with each peek we get at what she’s up to and why.

In other words, I was missing an opportunity

And that’s why this scene I’m working on (31.5 for those keeping count) is giving me trouble.

It doesn’t yet have the danger coefficient it needs.

I don’t allow ‘middle’ scenes. Waste of good space and plotting sequence work. If the scene isn’t enhancing the story, it shouldn’t be there, but I have my other constraint which says we need to see what this character is up to.

The reader deserves that: my implicit contract with readers is that I won’t waste their time. If something is there, it can’t be removed (and the books shortened) without doing violence to the story and leaving a hole.

I just hadn’t thought out this particular sub-plot in the detail it needs, and my subconscious noticed – and stopped a perfectly good, if unnecessary, scene from being written.

It was okay.

But not good.

And it is going to have to be much better before I can enjoy writing it, and if I don’t enjoy writing it, why bother?

So I apologize in advance to my beta reader – this is going to make you very unhappy, and that’s exactly what I want to do, because the depth of despair predicts the heights achievable every time.

I made some lists, and I found all kinds of fodder.

I may end up using all of it in various degrees.

I have a bunch of decisions to make about relative strengths and what to summarize versus what to make the reader live through, but the thought processes have generated far more than I needed, and now I get to choose only the best.

I felt a bit lost, and I’ve been struggling with that feeling since I finished 31.4, and now I know how to proceed with making this timeline contribute to the rightness of the conclusion, instead of merely walking along the side track until it crossed the main path again.

Thanks for listening.

This is how I make progress, by understanding what I’m doing – and then writing it down.

I’m trying not to make too many mistakes twice.

That ol’ subconscious knows what it’s doing.

Every time.

**********

Happy New Year – and I hope you survived 2020 intact!

May 2021 bring you joy and peace.

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11 thoughts on “When you have to micromanage your plot

  1. acflory

    I’m a hybrid when it comes to outlining, and really hate it when I have to do it, but…what you’ve described here is so similar to how I feel when I know something is ‘wrong’, that I just have to High Five you. ‘That ol’ subconscious knows what it’s doing.’ Truer words have never been spoken.

    I’m glad you found your way again and managed to weave the side story in. Hard work but very satisfying when it works, and the subconscious gives it that tick of approval. lol Actually for me it’s usually a sigh of relief!

    Wishing you a safe and happy New Year with lots more writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Sigh of relief it was.

      Now, I still have to write the thing – but I’m not stuck in quite the same way.

      And I got a new 5* review, so I need to let that encourage me to get going with this series of scenes. It had been a while without a review.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      1. acflory

        lol – still hard work but doable. And I know exactly what you mean about that review. It’s so hard to stay motivated when self doubt gnaws at your innards. Why work so hard when no one cares? Reviews are life blood to writers. 🙂

        Like

        Reply
        1. acflory

          OMG!!!! That is wonderful news. It’ll still take a couple of months, but you should be protected at last. I’m so pleased for you both. Looks as if 2021 may live up to its promise! -hugs-

          Like

  2. Stuart Danker

    As a pantser, I fall into the trap of fluff scenes a lot. It’s something I’m learning to address, but I generally leave that to the second pass. My first draft is just full of meandering, I’ve learned.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Pantsing seems to be hardwired into some people’s brains, as plotting seems to be in mine, and most of us are not purely one or the other.

      At this stage (I’ve been writing this trilogy since 2000), I don’t do passes, as they are understood. I work on a scene until it locks into place – and it’s finished. I rarely go back.

      So the fluff-detection is in present mode, and the scene has to be kicked up to full value – or deleted – NOW. That way I only have to handle a scene’s worth of everything at a time.

      But it requires detailed plotting so the scene has a home, and at one point in the Great Reorganization what I did for this set of scenes was ‘good enough’ to finish the plotting.

      I truly left some details for ‘later’ because I had a broad enough outline. At that time, I just couldn’t go into the necessary level of detail. I had just forgotten.

      Now that I’ve mulled it over for a couple of weeks, the answer became clearer, and I’ll clean up the detailed plotting for this whole arc.

      I hope meandering gets you what you like in your own writing!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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